“Step again, old man. Breathe.”. That's what my head kept telling me to do. So I did. Thousands of times. The hypnotic voice talked me up to 14,255 feet where the air is thin (compared to San Antonio) and the view is...indescribable. It was like being in an airplane, except that it was cold and windy and you had plenty of legroom (but without the desire to move your legs any more). I sat contentedly on the summit of Long’s Peak outside of Estes Park Colorado for an hour and a half early Monday morning. An interesting thing about Long’s Peak: It’s not the highest of the famed 14er’s in Colorado, but it is among the most difficult and the most attempted. Why? As you drive through Rocky Mountain National Park looking at elk and flowers you look up and know that the best views are from up there on the summit. Longs Peak dominates the landscape from just about anywhere in the park and is spoken of with reverence. It is holy. You know it. But you want to know why. I love to backpack. God’s always there in the trails and the trees to crack me open, show me what’s inside, and tell me what to keep and throw away. I wouldn’t know any of the joys of hiking Texas’ state parks, or Guadalupe Peak or the South Rim in Big Bend had it not been for God whispering in my ear one day,”Come away with me.” That’s honestly how I started backpacking. Since that first solo trip where God fathered me through the unknown, I have never been the same. He waits for me, it seems, and the only way to get tuned in is to leave behind my large pile of stuff for a much smaller pile of stuff bought at REI. It has a special name: "GEAR", and it is precious to me.
So at 8:30am I was sitting on the summit which is several football fields wide. After a modest celebration with strangers, which involves the snapping of heroic poses like the one you see above, I found a lonely place. For about an hour I didn’t see another soul who wasn’t a thousand feet below me. I have a prayer I’ve been praying for years now. I have prayed it through normal boring days and I have prayed it when I felt my life needed saving. On this day I was praying it and a line that usually hides in the text jumped out at me. As I looked out over beauty that can only be described as “wasteful”, my tongue and heart said to God “ This is all about you. You are the hero of this story and I belong to you.” I could begin to clearly see the motivation behind the climb. It began to make more sense as to why I was up there at all.
From my vantage point, as I was praying, I could see 20-25 people, far below (1,000-1,500’ below) scrambling up rocks in an effort to sit where I was sitting and see what I was seeing. I watched them. They moved so slowly. I knew well what they were feeling. The ache in their back, the burning in their thighs and buttocks as they raised their leg yet again. The strain to get air through what felt like a straw, and the scratched up palms and fingertips as you climb with all fours. Why would a person do this? It’s a question I felt God posed for me in that moment. To make it personal, he’s still asking me as I sit comfortably in front of my computer screen with my still sore feet now comfortably propped up on my desk. Why did I do it? Answer: Because I wanted to be part of a larger story. I like to be the hero sometimes, sure. When I came back to the condo you would have thought I’d gone to the moon by the reaction of my family. But when you’re out there on that cold hard mountain and as you look up and down and all around, you realize how small you really are. Just a small slip and it would have a been a great way for God to rid the earth of any trace of you... and yet He did not. I, like all the rest of those thousands who had climbed that trail before me, were wanting to better understand how large a story we actually live in. For some, that larger story involves the belief in billions of years of evolution and their vital role in saving all that precious progress from human stupidity. Yet that still leaves them at the center of a story that is devoid of meaning. How tragic. How desperately futile.
“A life lived in fear is a life have lived” I’ve heard it said. Is that why I climbed? Absolutely. The fear of being the center of my own universe is scary as hell. I’m not in control of this world. I can't even keep control of my garage. And I'm smart enough to know I never will be. I sat and wrestled (and I really had to wrestle) with whether I truly believe the God who made the mountains so big and hard and wild, also made me. I had to wrestle with whether I truly believed a God of this power and creativity would truly, deeply love me. And I believe He does. It was a precious moment where my heart was fully at peace with the world and with God. Thank you, God, for taking care of the universe and still, somehow, caring about me. This truth that I found on the summit is of greater comfort that I can communicate.
It is better to be a small man in a big story than to be the big man in no story.